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Friday Flashback: Tucker Automobiles

By Karl Klockars in Miscellaneous on Dec 12, 2008 4:45PM

Seeing as how it's looking worse and worse for the auto bailout, we thought we'd take this particular Flashback to the late 40s, when Chicago had its very own automotive industry failure. It was in 1946 that Preston Tucker came to the Southwest side on Cicero Avenue, leased an old B29 engine plant and went to work. He finally put together a whole 51 cars - not 51 models, not 51 lines, 51 individual cars - before going under in 1949.

Cicero Ave. looks a little different today, doesn't it?

It was a pretty badass lookin' ride, with a fuel injected flat-6 hemi engine capable of taking the few cars produced up to 100mph. It was called the most aerodynamical car in the world at a time when cars were being produced to be huge, heavy and pretty unwieldy. Tucker even took the safety of the passengers into consideration, which was next to unheard of in the auto industry. The most notable design note was the "Cyclops Eye" headlight centered in the front of the vehicle, which turned with the wheels to light the direction of travel.


Between production troubles, bad press, and the Big Three breathing down his neck, Tucker's 51 "Torpedoes" were all the world ever saw of the wannabe auto magnate. You might think that would stop a guy, but no - he went to Brazil to raise more cash and was going to give it another shot. Lung cancer got him first. If one were to put all the remaining 47 Torpedos up for sale today, they'd fund a mini-bailout all on their own. When they go up for sale (which is rare) they command more than a million dollars per vehicle.

All of this, of course, is captured in celluloid glory in the Francis Ford Coppola film Tucker: The Man and His Dream, which won, among other things, a Chicago Film Critics Association award (Best Supporting Actor - Martin Landau).

All photos by AP, sourced here.